Tag Archives: Observations

Reflections on Appomattox 150th

To conclude this birthday extravaganza:

2015-04-27 20.41.25


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A Furiously Fast Five on Fury

On Saturday I went and saw the WW2 movie Fury with a friend and wanted to post a quick review about it even though I am a terrible WW2 historian and haven’t seen any of the movies. So instead of an actual review, here are 5 quick thoughts:

1.) It is a very violent movie. If you normally avert your eyes during bloody parts, this movie isn’t for you. In the book I’m reading now, the vets who wrote it said that after a bomb came in, they would have to look for the victims’ body parts in nearby trees and bushes, they would be that blown apart. This movie … basically showed that. I have been told that Saving Private Ryan* is gorier and even more realistic, but I haven’t seen that movie. I’m a bad history major.

..except when I don’t


2.) I enjoyed the attention to detail in props/costuming. Brad Pitt’s badges all looked like he had sewn the badges on himself. The other main character, Norman, wore a GI sweater through the entire movie and I noticed myself trying to figure out the stitch pattern. I really enjoyed seeing the mechanics of the tank warfare – the process of loading, priming, firing, etc. The space was so confined it was hard to get a sense of internal geography of the machine, like how the characters’ compartments fit together. In the scene where the tank runs over the body in the mud, the only thing distinctive thing about the body are the hobnails in the boots. Oh, and at one of the final really super dramatic scenes, I noted the German grenades and was so pleased with myself that the scene totally lost it’s emotional impact.**


3.) Acting. Is it just me who thinks Brad Pitt is just a little overrated? I mean, he was fine as the Sergeant and made his character believable and everything, but it’s almost the exact same role he had in Troy. If he isn’t overrated then he’s got a lot of similar roles. I thought Shia LaBouf had the best acting out of the whole ensemble. He was barely recognizable.



4.) I left the theater being very happy about the film. Then I went online and read all sorts of reviews, from official to unofficial to the reviews on IMDB. The users who rated the movie lower than 4 stars left scathing reviews that I found to be quite educational. They also raised several points that had occurred to me during the movie that I refuse to let destroy my initial impressions. (The landmine, the cast’s age, the final shot of the movie, formulaic ending, the final fight, the “hero effect”***, weak character development, etc). The random fact I learned is that there is exactly one working Tiger tank currently in existence and it was used in this film. So … not sure where I stand on the film.



5.) Interesting thought –>  many reviewers have complained about the final scene (the tank surrounded by bodies), terrible dialogue and one-dimensional characters. What if the movie was actually supposed to be from the tank’s perspective? It’s an odd thought but it makes the final scene make much more sense. I am wondering if Fury is supposed to be something like Warhorse, which is a war film but told from the horse’s perspective. What if Fury is more about the tank and less about the crew so the final shot is actually the dead hero (the tank) surrounded by all the damage she did on her way out? (Are tanks personified with the feminine?) It would be something like Boromir at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Hm, interesting theory.

Conclusion: I think I need to see it again. I still have a lot of questions.



*Wait, Matt Damon is the titular Private Ryan?! I need to get with the program.

** American grenades are shaped like baseballs because American kids probably know how to throw baseballs. German grenades are shaped like plow handles because German kids probably know farm equipment better. All this according to the SS reenactor of several weeks ago.

*** The hero effect: where the outnumbered/gunned hero team faces incredible odds and the bad guys somehow don’t gain the upper hand despite firing giant rockets at point blank range at 6 metres and still missing the target so the good guys (the hero) gets to fight on.

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Monuments Men Musings

On Saturday evening, my brain hit a wall with homework. I was sick and tired of staring at a screen and doing homework so … I located The Monuments Men movie online and watched it. By staring at a screen. C’est la vie.

As previously stated, this movie was based off of the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History which was written by Robert Edsel back in 2010. I highly recommend the book for a number of reasons. For one, Edsel is not a scholar so his writing has much more of a narrative flow than most history books. There are even scenes in the book that so moved him or amused him that he recreated dialogue between the various characters to better set the scene. In his first foray into this fascinating topic, Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art – America and Her Allies Recovered It (whew! what a mouthful!), Edsel successfully framed the entirety of World War II as Hitler’s desire to acquire all the arts, and the Monuments Men book expands on that, with more words and less pictures.

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Meandering Through History

… What a good tagline.

I had some real time off over the holidays, like real time and not Christmas Day and calling out  for a couple of days, which is something I totally would never do ever.  After a nice trip home for some of Mom’s annual Christmas treats, I still had a whole week left.  So, I found myself killing that awkward week between Christmas and New Year’s in Philadelphia.  On the surface, I was visiting a college friend.  But mostly –> Valley Forge at Christmastime.

When I told my sister I wanted to visit Valley Forge during the winter because of history reasons, she laughed at me.  Like, I hadn’t heard her laugh like that in a long time.  Whatever, sister, I’m still cool.

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As mentioned in the previous post, Abner Rainbow, the fighter pilot who flew an astounding 105 missions over Europe, made it clear that he was just doing his job and looking out for the guy next to him, that no one was looking for Purple Hearts or special recognition, and that if we were in his position, we would do the same thing.

I sincerely hope that is the case.

One of my dance partners, who had breakfasted with Wild Bill and was thoroughly blown away by the older man’s stories, said that it was a different culture nowadays.  One of us observed that now, the servicemen/women seem more concerned with how they can change the military to fit them than they used to be.  It was probably me making the observation because the partner, an active duty serviceman, generally agreed although everyone he knows/works with are all good people.

Maybe this change happened because WW2 was much more urgent, that the fate of the whole of Western Civilization hung on the outcome, and that the current wars of recent memory have been much more abstract in nature?  Maybe it’s because we, as a nation, are wealthier and have more material expectations from life, almost like a sense of entitlement?  Maybe it’s just something that happened with no explanation?

Other observations:

  • A majority of the people we interacted with were retired or active duty military.
  • These events are militaristic.  The people are really good at drills and precision.  Like so.  But they’re less serious than a real military thing.  Which is fine with me.   There is still plenty of “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” and they speak in current and past acronyms that start sounding like alphabet soup after too long.
  • The community, although not without its politics, is fun – a very respectful group of nerds who get together and talk about the nuances of everything, from thread count in British canvas to why the assassination attempt on Hitler was really a good/bad idea in the long run.
  • There’s also the cultural immersion aspect – the sliding scale of authenticity from women’s hairstyles to cutlery to music.  And then there’s the sliding scale of authenticity adherence – are his knickers authentic or are they from a 6-pack of Fruit of the Loom from Wal-Mart? (Answer: depends on who you ask.)
  • These people do it, more or less, to honor the guys who actually did it, and the most rewarding thing that could happen is for one of them to meet a veteran from a unit they’re portraying and to be told, “Good job.”  Naturally, this means the focus tends to be on militaristic things – weapons, tanks/vehicles, strategy, the War Effort, Buy War Bonds, Save Scrap Metal, Uncle Sam Wants YOU.  There is less emphasis on the really unpleasant bits.  That is, there aren’t a lot of people dressing up like Holocaust victims/survivors.   That’s just – no.
  • This event was different than Civil War events.  Although the CW happened so long ago that we’re now on Robert E Lee VI, the themes of government authority and race are still alive today.  But WW2 – the technology and artifacts are much more current, but the themes of stopping a super-race and world domination, are largely irrelevant.  (Genocide, on the other hand, is for another post.)  It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
  • And because I needed to share this: The British guys do a pretty convincing accent.  When someone asked where they had learned to speak like that, they answered, “Rosetta Stone.”  The little old British lady said, “Oh, I didn’t know they could teach you to have an accent.” (They explained themselves to her, don’t worry.)

Here, have a picture of a big metal tank-y thing.

And an old British car.



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